The magnetic hard disk is now a venerable storage medium but it still delivers the best storage space bang for your buck. While not as fast as new-fangled SSDs, there are many simple ways to improve the performance and reliability of the classic hard disk. Even, if you're already running a solid state drive in your machine, there are still a few optimization tweaks to improve the reliability of your zippy new storage device. Read on for tips, tricks, and utilities to get the best out of your HDD or SSD!
One of the most useful tweaks for traditional hard drive is to partition it into multiple volumes. Partitioning has many benefits, such as keeping your OS files separate from your other data (allowing for cleaner and safer installs with less risk to your other stored files), keeping your page file separate from your other files, increased reliability (file system corruption errors that might knock out one partition may not affect other partitions), the ability to set up multi-boot systems (such as Windows 7 on one boot partition and Linux on another), and more. You can read about the benefits (and downsides) of partitioning here.
Windows already comes with partition management tools, and can partition your drives on installation. We'll also feature a few third party partition management tools at the end of this article.
File fragmentation occurs when pieces of a particular file are scattered in multiple locations on a hard disk's physical surface. A fragmented file takes longer to access and read as the hard disk head has to spin further to access all of the file's the fragments. You can prevent excessive file fragmentation by running a defragmenter program that will physically piece the files back together. The program copies the scattered parts of files and then moves them into a solid block on the physical surface of the drive, thereby making file access faster and more efficient.
To access Windows' default defrag tools, simply right click on a drive in Explorer, go to the Properties-> Tools tab and look for Defragment. From there, you can select analyze drives for fragmentation, run a defrag, or set Windows to run a defrag on an automaticschedule (highly recommended). That's more than enough for many users, but we'll also feature other third-party defrag software at the end of the article.
Windows stores files you delete in the Recycle Bin, allowing you to recover them in case of accidental deletion. Regularly checking and emptying the Recycle Bin will allow you to save even more space. You can also skip the "delete to Recycle Bin" part of the equation by Shift+Clicking on the "Delete" option when deleting a file in Windows Explorer. This permanently deletes selected files and folders, rather than dumping them into the Recycle Bin. However, be sure that you want those files and folders dead and gone, because once you do this, there's no turning back.
Another space-saving maintenance step is to regularly empty your Temporary Internet Files and other cache-type folders that programs (like your browser) use to store temporary information and browsing history. While temporary files and caches can improve performance and surfing speed, they can also use up hundreds of MB or even a GB or two if not regularly emptied. You can usually automate this in your browser's settings, or manually dump these, along with the Recycle Bin, using a utility like CCleaner.
The Pagefile is a type of virtual memory Windows uses to store data used by an idle application so that more space is freed up in the system's RAM. Advice on whether to turn the pagefile on or off varies wildly online but, odds are, you should leave it on unless you know exactly what you're doing. Try to set the pagefile in its own partition when possible. This means applications and data won't impinge on space the pagefile might need to use. Better yet, set it in a partition on a different physical drive than your boot drive.
Moving the Pagefile calls for some digging around in the Control Panel (and will require admin privileges). Go to Control Panel-> System-> Advanced System Settings-> Advanced-> Performance-> Settings-> Advanced-> Virtual Memory-> Change. This will bring up a window listing all your partitions and any pagefiles located therein. You'll want to move the majority of your pagefile space to another drive partition, but will need to keep a minimum of 800MB pagefile on C:\ if you care about crash memory dumps. Select C:\ and then either set it to Custom Size 800MB (initial and maximum size) or no paging file. Click "set" to save and then go to the drive you want to allocate your pagefile to (In my case, K:\) and either set the pagefile size to "System Managed Size" or "Custom Size" (use the recommended setting that the window provides or check out the copious amounts of online lit for a custom setting). Save the settings, and then restart to have these changes take effect.
Now we move on to solid state drives, which function differently from traditional HDDs and therefore require different optimization methods. One of the major changes is that defragmenting, which is an important maintenance habit to form when using HDDs, has little to no effect on an SSD and may actually reduce your drive's total lifespan with numerous small write operations. Windows should automatically disable scheduled defrags for a drive that it recognizes as an SSD but that isn't always the case. As a result, you may want to double check your defrag tools to ensure that it doesn't automatically schedule defrags for an SSD. You should still defrag your HDDs, though.
There's plenty of online discussion as to the merits of System Restore on an SSD. Many online reports say a System Restore may markedly slow down SSD performance and interfere with the vital TRIM operation over time. You may want to turn off System Restore but be warned: the lack of a Restore point may make it harder to recover from things like a bad driver, install error, etc. You can still mitigate the risk to your data by regularly backing up with third party software, though. If you already do, turning off System Restore may reduce the number of write operations on an SSD (always a good thing for longevity) and free up some disk space to boot!
To turn off System Restore, go to Control Panel-> System-> System Protection-> Configure-> Turn off System Restore.